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Monophthong

A monophthong is a vowel sound pronounced as a single, unchanging sound, without any significant change in quality or length. In other words, it is a single vowel sound that remains constant throughout its pronunciation. In contrast, diphthongs are vowel sounds that involve a gradual change in quality and length, such as the "oi" sound in "boil" or the "au" sound in "caught". Monophthongs are an important element of the English language, and their use can affect the way words are pronounced and understood.

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Monophthong

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A monophthong is a vowel sound pronounced as a single, unchanging sound, without any significant change in quality or length. In other words, it is a single vowel sound that remains constant throughout its pronunciation. In contrast, diphthongs are vowel sounds that involve a gradual change in quality and length, such as the "oi" sound in "boil" or the "au" sound in "caught". Monophthongs are an important element of the English language, and their use can affect the way words are pronounced and understood.

The word monophthong comes from the Greek “mono”, which means “one”, and “-phthong”, which means “tone” or “sound”. So monophthong means “one sound” or “single sound”.

Monophthongs are sometimes called pure vowels.

English monophthongs: list

There are 12 monophthongs in English. Review the list below as well as some examples of when they are used and how they are pronounced in everyday words.

Examples of Monopthongs in English
MonophtongsExamplePronunciation
[ɪ]lip /lɪp/ Pronounced in the front part of the vocal tract, with the tongue half-closed to the roof of the mouth and the lips in a spread position.
[i:]sheep /ʃiːp/Articulated in the front part of the vocal tract, with the tongue close to the roof of the mouth and the lips in a spread position.
[ʊ]cook /kʊk/Produced in the back part of the vocal tract, with the tongue close to the back of the roof of the mouth and the lips in a rounded position.
[u:]fool /fuːl/Articulated in the back part of the vocal tract, with the tongue close to the roof of the mouth and the lips in a rounded position.
[e]ten /ten/ Produced in the central part of the vocal tract, with the tongue close to the roof of the mouth and the lips in a rounded position.
[ɜ:]girl /gɜːl/Pronounced in the central part of the vocal tract, with the tongue partly opened and the lips in an unrounded position.
[ə]among /əˈmʌŋ/Articulated in the central part of the vocal tract, with the lips partly opened.
[ɔ:]cord /kɔːd/ Articulated in the back part of the vocal tract, with the tongue partly opened and the lips in a rounded position.
[ɑ:]bard /bɑːd/ Pronounced in the back part of the vocal tract, with the tongue completely open and low in the mouth, and the lips in a spread position.
[ɒ]fog /fɒg/Produced in the back part of the vocal tract, with the tongue open and low in the mouth, and in a rounded position.
[ʌ]nut /nʌt/Pronounced in the back part of the vocal tract, with the tongue half-open and the lips in an unrounded position.
[æ]man /mæn/Articulated in the front part of the vocal tract, with the tongue half-open and the lips in a spread position.

Monophthong table of the 12 monophthongs StudySmarter Fig. 1 - There are 12 monophthongs in the English language.

The characteristics of monophthongs

  • Monophthongs can be found in any part of a word. However, they are often found in the middle of a word.
  • You can find monophthongs at the beginning and end of a word. For example, in words like after, and lazy.
  • Monophthongs are also divided into long and short.

Examples of monophthongs

There are two types of monopthongs: long and short monophthongs. The following examples of monopthongs show the importance of understanding the distinction between long and short monophthongs for proper pronunciation in English. These examples show how the pronunciation of monophthongs can affect the meaning of words and the clarity of communication.

Long monophthongs

Long monophthongs are vowels with long pronunciation. There are 5 long vowels:

  • /a:/ as in calm.
  • /u:/ as in cool.
  • /i:/ as in leap.
  • /3:/ as in turn.
  • /ɔ:/ as in all.

Short monophthongs

Short monophthongs are vowels with a 'short' sound, which means that they are not extended sounds. Compare the vowel sound in eat and sit for example. The first is long and the second is short. There are 7 short vowels:

  • /ɪ/ as in sit.
  • /ʊ/ as in boot.
  • /e/ as in bed.
  • /ə/ as in letter.
  • /æ/ as in rat.
  • /ʌ/ as in bus.
  • /ɒ/ as in pot.

Try pronouncing a couple of words in the lists above while looking in the mirror. Focus on the way you move your mouth and the position of your tongue. Try pronouncing heat, hit, hat, and hot. Notice how the movement of the mouth changes, from a spread position to a rounded one.

Other than the transcription, a good way of telling monophthongs and diphthongs apart comes from the pronunciation. When pronouncing a diphthong, your mouth should create two distinct shapes without closing. For example, when pronouncing the word beer, your mouth should change from a spread shape to an open shape.

Monophthongs and diphthongs

The differences between monophthongs and diphthongs are:

  • A monophthong is when there is only one vowel sound in a syllable. A diphthong is the combination of two vowel sounds together.
  • Monophthongs are transcribed with the International Phonetic Alphabet, with just one symbol, for example [ʊ]. While diphthongs are transcribed with two symbols, for example [aʊ].

Monophthong - Key takeaways

  • A monophthong is a pure vowel sound that has a single auditory occurrence.
  • There are twelve monophthongs in English.
  • An example of a monophthong in English is the vowel sound /æ/ as in the word "cat". This sound is pronounced as a single, unchanging vowel sound without any significant change in quality or length.
  • Monophthongs are divided into long and short monopthongs.
  • A diphthong is a combination of two vowel sounds together.

Frequently Asked Questions about Monophthong

Monophthongs can be pronounced differently based on the movement of the tongue and the position of the lips. For example, the monophthong [ɪ] is pronounced in the front-central part of the vocal tract, with the lips half closed and in a spread position.

Examples of monophthongs are the [ə] in about, [ʌ] in one, and [ʊ] in put.

There are twelve monophthongs in English.

A monophthong is when there is only one vowel sound in a syllable. A diphthong is a combination of two vowel sounds together.

A monophthong is a single vowel sound.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which word contains a monophthong?

Which word contains a monophthong?

Which word contains a monophthong?

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